Sunday, January 9, 2011

Complete Mystery

By the summer of 1947, Martin Goodman had been publishing only two types of comic books, superhero comics and humor comics. Humor comics were further subdivided into funny-animal comics and Archie-inspired teen humor comics. As mid 1947 approached, a new genre appeared on the Timely schedule: Crime comics.

Goodman had deep experience in the crime publication niche. We have already seen that he'd been publishing true-crime magazines since 1939 :


.....and crime pulps from as far back as :


STAR DETECTIVE Vol 1, #6 (Dec/36)


THE ANGEL DETECTIVE Vol 1, #1 (July/41)

Seeing the enormous success Lev Gleason gained from changing SILVER STREAK COMICS to CRIME DOES NOT PAY in 1942 prompted him to jump into the nascent crime comic market and he released two books simultaneously, JUSTICE COMICS and OFFICIAL TRUE CRIME CASES, both cover dated Fall/47 and both with great covers by Timely staff art director Syd Shores

JUSTICE COMICS #7 (#1) (Fall/47)

1948 saw OFFICIAL TRUE CRIME CASES change title to ALL TRUE CRIME and 4 additional crime comics debut:

CRIME EXPOSED (June/48) [actually a one-shot]


CRIME EXPOSED #1a (June/48)

 ...and finally, COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug/48).

Timely was also at this time experimenting with book-length comic stories. We had previously seen extra long stories in the classic Human Torch/Sub-Mariner battles as well as in titles like YOUNG ALLIES where a story was broken up into 5 or so chapters all linked to the main story. The debut issue of JUSTICE COMICS ran a whopping 46 pages and the just launched esoteric IDEAL - A CLASSICAL COMIC also sported book-length tales. Now Timely released COMPLETE MYSTERY #1, a title that would cap the first wave of Timely/Atlas crime books, each issue a book-length story followed by a short 1 to 4 page filler.

What's special though about COMPLETE MYSTERY is not the story length, but the creators. With issue #2 Stan Lee takes over the scripting chores and scripts issues 2,3 and 4. The artists are absolute vintage Timely circa 1948. Let's take a look.



The phrase "book-length" is in the title on the cover and I've always wanted to say that this cover was by Gene Colan but I never have and probably never will. Inside is a 25 page lead feature "7 Dead Men", penciled by, yup... Gene Colan!  I'm going to devote an entire blog post or two in the future to Gene Colan's Timely and Atlas work so I'll just mention that Gene does a fantastic job this early in his career. The story was penciled at the age of 21 and by my unofficial tally this is approximately the 12th Timely story Gene worked on. As seen below, Gene is already one of the better artists on the Timely staff. The author is unknown, the inker is unknown and it's possible there may even be other hands helping out as Timely staff work was sometimes done piecemeal. Here are a couple of pages:

#3042 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.1

#3042 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.6

#3042 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.10

#3042 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.11

#3042 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.15

#3042 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.23

#3042 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.25

The back-up feature this issue is a 4 page Tommy Tyme story. Based on the job # of D-190, this story is definitely inventory from as far back as 1945-46 when an earlier method of assigning job #'s was used. The "D" here may stand for an editor but I postulate this without any assurance whatsoever.  Tommy Tyme was a time traveling youth whose adventures frequently took him to meetings with important individuals in history. Otto Binder created the series and was the primary author of most/all of the stories that ran from 1942 through 1946 in titles including KID KOMICS, the second MYSTIC and YOUNG ALLIES. Dan Barry was one of the main artists as well as Charles Tomsey. In this story I'm stumped at who this is. The art slightly suggests Chu Hing involvement in some capacity but in truth I'm clueless. I even wild guess wonder if this could be Tom Tomasch?  Any suggestions would be welcome.

#D-190 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.1

#D-190 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.2

#D-190 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.3

#D-190 COMPLETE MYSTERY #1 (Aug48) p.4



Issue #2 introduces a familiar face to the series, the editor-in-chief of the company, Stan Lee. The cover is penciled by Timely's art director Syd Shores. Shores spent the majority of the 1940's as Timely's primary Captain America artist. His history on the character began when he inked the cover to issue #1. He then assisted on miscellaneous issues during the initial Simon and Kirby 10 issue run before becoming Al Avison's inker when S&K departed for National. When Avison moved on, Shores took over the feature completely and held it, save for time in the service, for most of the golden-age run, although a score of other artists continued to also drawing Cap's scattered adventures in several titles. 

The splash to issue #2 boldly lists the creator credits of the company's editor-in-chief and art director in fancy cursive lettering:

Story by Stan Lee
Drawn by Syd Shores

The story is put forth as a murder mystery narrated by the spectral image on the right hand side of the splash page. Let me say right at the outset that this story, "Fate's Fateful Jigsaw", is fantastic! Stan has crafted a convoluted plot where a business man sets out to murder his rival by creating the perfect crime with an air-tight alibi, getting a homeless man who looks like his twin to be seen at his club during the time of the murder. Add in the fact that his son is in love with his rival's beautiful daughter and is then arrested for his father's murder deed while the father himself cannot prove he is to blame because his alibi is too strong! Also his wife dies from a heart attack from the shock. Just as the son is going to be executed, the father in hopeless despair, runs away to shut himself off from the world for 20 years, before dying alone and unknown in untold misery as his actions have ruined his life and family. Except for one small fact, a great O'Henry shock ending that I did not see coming! The plot is so strong that I wonder if it's lifted off a movie plot.  I won't post the final page as I don't want to ruin it for you. This title may be reprinted in the future so I'm only posting a few pages to highlight Syd's artwork.

Syd's artwork is very strong and the panel pacing just superb. Some of the pages may be inked or assist-inked by George Klein and I'm nearly certain the panels with the rivals beautiful daughter were assisted by Gene Colan, who perhaps even drew the young woman!

#3354 COMPLETE MYSTERY #2 (Oct48) p.1

#3354 COMPLETE MYSTERY #2 (Oct48) p.6
The blond girl above in the last panel appears to be drawn by Gene Colan.

#3354 COMPLETE MYSTERY #2 (Oct48) p.13

#3354 COMPLETE MYSTERY #2 (Oct48) p.15
The page above appears to have been inked by George Klein

 #3354 COMPLETE MYSTERY #2 (Oct48) p.23

 #3354 COMPLETE MYSTERY #2 (Oct48) p.24

The back-up features this issue consist of two 1-page crime features. The first is called "Oddities in Crime!" and this is the sole installment of this feature anywhere in any Timely/Atlas crime comic. The exact same installment was run in IDEAL - A CLASSICAL COMIC #2 (Sept/48), a month previously, so this appearance can be deemed a "reprint", for what that's worth. The artist is unknown, a Timely bullpenner. I once thought this could be Allen Bellman but do not believe so any longer.

The final feature is another one-pager, this time the well-known "Let's Play Detective", written, penciled and inked by Allen Bellman. Allen created this feature circa 1943 and took the idea to Stan Lee who approved it and bought roughly 50 installments throughout the 1940's from Allen, all done freelance from his usual Timely staff duties.

#3697 COMPLETE MYSTERY #2 (Oct/48)

And lastly, a great house ad advertising the first and only appearance of THE WITNESS (in a solo book) and the very first issue of Timely's very first romance title, MY ROMANCE #1!  

The Witness was launched as a last-ditch effort to revive the Timely hero titles, launching with a revived ALL WINNERS #1, NAMORA #1, SUN GIRL #1, VENUS #1 and BLACKSTONE #2 (picking up the numbering from the previous EC series).

MY ROMANCE  was the first of what eventually would be 32 lines of romance comics that would appear in the next 16 months. It changed to MY OWN ROMANCE by issue #4 (Mar/49) and would be one of only two romance titles to survive the Atlas implosion (the other was LOVE ROMANCES), before changing title to TEEN-AGE ROMANCE with #77 (Sept/60) and ending with #86 (Mar/62). 

House Ad in COMPLETE MYSTERY #2 (Oct/48)



Issue #3 once again pairs a veteran creator duo. Stan Lee scripts the 25 page "Fear in the Night" and the artwork is by Carl Burgos, now on staff after returning to Timely after the war and well after leaving Lloyd Jacquet's Funnies The cover is unknown to me but like issue #1, hints of Gene Colan. It is much too fluid to be the staid and stiffer Carl Burgos. Marty Nodell is another candidate as he did a lot of still uncredited work in 1948/49.

"Fear in the Night" also may be a bit of an experiment. Last issue a ghostly specter narrated a crime tale. This issue, Stan and Burgos weave a tale of an evil man being unrelentingly pursued around the world by a man in black, with the kicker being it was his conscience all along. Concurrently, Timely was introducing the Witness to the newsstands, a supernatural "Phantom Stranger type character. All of this appears to be testing the waters for what will shortly come, the debut of horror/mystery at Timely with AMAZING MYSTERIES #32 cover dated May/49. Stan and Goodman had almost certainly seen Avon's one-shot EERIE COMICS #1 in late 1946 and with the success of radio suspense and mystery shows, probably felt the time was becoming right to dip into that quill.

The story itself rambles on way too long. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko will later on produce similar morality thrillers in a succinct 6 pages. Burgos's story art is serviceable, nothing spectacular. There are some good atmospheric panels, though.

#4041 COMPLETE MYSTERY #3 (Dec48) p.1
#4041 COMPLETE MYSTERY #3 (Dec48) p.10

#4041 COMPLETE MYSTERY #3 (Dec48) p.18

#4041 COMPLETE MYSTERY #3 (Dec48) p.23

#4041 COMPLETE MYSTERY #3 (Dec48) p.25

The back-up this time is a two-page Allen Bellman Let's Play Detective crime feature, "Call a Spade a Spade".

#4052 COMPLETE MYSTERY #3 (Dec/48) p.1

#4052 COMPLETE MYSTERY #3 (Dec/48) p.2

And lastly this issue, as the cauldron of swirling anti-comics hysteria begins to coalesce, Timely would respond with 2 full-page editorials. The first, reprinted below, would appear in Dec/48 cover dated issues and address their concerns with the media's criticism of comic books. First Dr. Frederic Wertham sponsored a symposium on "The Psychopathology of Comic Books" on March 19, 1948.  From this came a scathing article in the March 25th, 1948 issue of Collier's Weekly, "Horror in the Nursery" by Judith Crist. Finally, the Saturday Review of May 29, 1948 published "Comics ... Very Funny!", where Wertham pushed his condemnation of comic books, specifically crime comic books, further onto the public's radar.

Timely's editorial department published this editorial below, countering the criticism with the fact that they obtained editorial advice from Dr. Jean Thompson, a psychiatrist in the Child Guidance Bureau of the New York City Board of Education.Dr. Thompson's name was placed in bold letters at the top of page 1 this issue, alerting readers that Marvel Comics were "above criticism". Interestingly, internally we see the company was calling itself "Marvel Comics" at this time.

Anti-Wertham editorial in COMPLETE MYSTERY #3 (Dec/48)



Stan Lee and Carl Burgos are reunited again on an 18 pager this time, "Squealers Die Fast". The story is a bit overwritten and too drawn out.  It's becoming obvious that the 4, 5 or 6  page story format is the preferable size. With this story put to bed, already clipped to18 pages from 25 pages the past 3 issues, the shorter size will become the dominant standard. I have no clue on the cover above.

#4443 COMPLETE MYSTERY #4 (Feb49) p.1

The back-up story this time is a traditional 4-page crime story. The artist is unknown.

#4444 COMPLETE MYSTERY #4 (Feb49) p.1

The issue concludes with Timely's "second" anti-Wertham editorial.  This editorial directly addressed the raging debate about comic books in the pages of the aforementioned Saturday Review and pointedly mentions Dr.Wertham by name. The editorial quotes a letter from the July 24th issue by David Pace Wigransky, a 14 year old comics reader, who intelligently and logically refutes Wertham, explaining that finding a juvenile delinquent as a comic reader proves nothing as the vast millions of America’s youth who read comics are “not” juvenile delinquents. The editorial ends with a claim that Marvel Comics are “good comics” and again touts Dr. Thompson’s endorsement on the first page of every comic they published, strategically countering like a chess game, pitting one psychiatrist against another.

Anti-Wertham editorial in COMPLETE MYSTERY #4 (Feb/49)

Starting with issue #5 (Apr/49), the title of this book changes to TRUE COMPLETE MYSTERY and will continue another 4 issues up through #8 (Oct/49). 3 issues will sport photo covers, #'s 6,7,8. The highlights of these issues are two John  Buscema penciled stories each in issues #5 and #6.  These will be discussed in detail in a future blog  post on John Buscema's Timely career. Allen Bellman has an "Are You a Detective?" likewise in #5 and #6. Two more editorials also make there appearance in issues #5 and #6. With the crime comics taking so much heat industry-wide, Stan Lee is working overtime trying to convince the readers that Marvel is beyond reproach. These two additional editorials I will also discuss in a separate blog post in the future on Timely/Atlas' battles with comic book censorship.


Here are the rest of the covers after the title change. The book-length format is thrown out and the title becomes a standard crime format of 4 stories each in #5,6 and 3 stories each in #7,8.





  1. The thing I find interesting is how prominently the STORY title figures on the cover. On #1 in particular, the *book* title almost seems an afterthought, definitely dwarfed by the story title. I'm not too knowledgeable about pulps, but this seems "pulp-inspired" to me.

  2. I love that Angel Detective cover; "one false move and the totem pole gets it! Right in the woodwork!"

    Special thanks to you for posting the anti-Wertham pieces!

  3. I'm sure they were pulp-inspired, Tom. It seems like Stan and Goodman didn't know which way they wanted to go. Since they dropped it so quickly, I suppose we can assume sales were tepid.

  4. Michael wrote: Special thanks to you for posting the anti-Wertham pieces!"

    Actually, I now wish I didn't post them. I want to do a big post on comics censorship in the future, specifically how Timely tried to deflect criticism. I realize I can edit the post to take them out but I won't. The censorship post will just have to re-hash what is already here. The problem I'm finding is there is so much info, and I have so little time, that I write and post on the fly. Only "then" do I realize I can do entire posts based on tiny segments of what I already posted!

  5. Mike,

    Before I read your comments about the cover to Complete Mystery # 1 I was thinking, could this be Colan art? Then I read your comment and have to ask, why will you probably never say it is possibly by Colan?

    Nick Caputo

  6. Mike,

    It's never bad to have too much information. You're always thorough in your research and put so much into all your work. A post on comics censorship will be worthwhile and informative.

  7. Mike,

    Do you think George Klein did any inking on Complete Mystery # 1? Page 23 looked a little Kleinesque in places to my eye.

  8. Mike,

    I don't want to hog up your blog, but since you mentioned Colan possibly drawing some of the women in Complete Mystery # 2. I wonder if Colan was more involved? We know Colan learned under Shores, so perhaps Shores had him assist on the story to a greater degree. Page 6 in particular has some figure work that remind me of Colan's style.

  9. Nick wrote:

    "Before I read your comments about the cover to Complete Mystery # 1 I was thinking, could this be Colan art? Then I read your comment and have to ask, why will you probably never say it is possibly by Colan?"

    Something about it "feels" wrong, Nick. Hard to say why. That's my reason!

  10. I'm here for the romance! :) Great ad there! Interesting juxtaposition with the Witness.

  11. Jacque, I have some great romance posts coming in the future!

  12. Thanks for all your hard work and for sharing. I'm obsessed by cover art!

  13. Thanks Bill! I've got tons of stuff to share in the coming months.